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A gay elected official in Arizona whose recent Zoom call into a meeting received a lot of attention because of a person who showed up in the background has explained how the video came to be, and according to him, it's not at all what it looked to some on the right who became outraged.
Earlier this week, Dr. Matt Heinz appeared remotely to attend a Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting. The out Democrat and practicing physician represents District 2 on the board.
About two hours into the meeting, a common problem with remote video conferencing work befell Heinz.
In the background, a fit man emerged into the frame wearing a Speedo-style swimsuit and showed a bare chest and abs while attempting to put on a tank top. Heinz's camera briefly cut out; moments later, he returned to the screen, but the person in the background was gone. After that, the meeting continued without commentary or incident.
Right-wing influencers and media outlets jumped on the story, making clips of the situation go viral on social media. Trolls accused Heinz of hiring a sex worker while on the job, being caught with a man in women's underwear while skipping a government obligation, and more.
\u201cMan in Panties Makes appearance in Arizona Democrat\u2019s government work video. \nMatt Heinz is a Pima County Supervisor. \nApparently he was the only supervisor to not show up in person for the meeting. \nClearly he had more important things going on\u2026\ud83d\ude44 \n\u201d— Stephanie Hamill (@Stephanie Hamill) 1673502790
The right-wing publication Daily Caller amplified the accusation, writing, "During a Pima County Board of Supervisor's zoom meeting Tuesday, a half-naked man wearing female underwear was seen in the background of one of the supervisor's video broadcasts."
Heinz spoke with The Advocate Friday morning via Zoom from the Panama Canal. He and a friend are currently on a 10-day Ritz Carlton Yacht cruise to Panama City, he explained from aboard the vessel.
"I've been baffled with all the attention," he said.
"I'm on vacation with a travel companion, a friend, and we're on a 10-day cruise," Heinz explained. "I took a meeting while on my vacation, and just beyond the frame is a balcony that exits our room, so he came in to grab a shirt and ended up in the background."
Since the pandemic required remote work, he acknowledges that people or animals often have shown up in the background and been cause for laughter and sometimes shame.
"Like the cat playing with a toy in the background on the sofa, on the back of the sofa, when you're supposed to be listening to a subject matter expert about something, and you can only focus on the cat. Or a little kid escaped from bath time and went skittering across the floor, or my own dog during board meetings," he said.
"In fact, my dog, Gwen, has occasionally shown up in the background of our meetings. And, you know, no big deal."
He says that had his travel companion been a woman in a bikini, he doubts that the video would have gotten any attention at all.
"He's 24," Heinz said. "He's clearly an adult, and we're good friends who travel well together."
He added that the two are not a couple.
"We are not dating. We are not boyfriends. We're not engaged. We're not married," he said.
Heinz said that because he is a single gay man, he often takes shifts around the holidays that his colleagues would appreciate having off to be with their families.
"I work the night shift, and I voluntarily take the day before Thanksgiving," Heinz said. "I work Thanksgiving night. I work Christmas Eve usually, Christmas Day, and the night of, and I typically work the two or three days leading up to the new year."
He continued, "Then I'll take seven or 10 days time off right after the holidays because I've helped them to spend time with their families, and they don't mind if I do that. So it's our thing."
Heinz said he's an out gay man who's been running for office since 2006. So it should be no surprise to anybody that he's friends with men, he says.
"I've just been really perplexed by this," he said.
In addition to his elected position and his work as a doctor, Heinz has a small scribe business. He said he would have hoped that attending a meeting while on vacation on a cruise would show his dedication and that he was disappointed by the reaction of some.
"I have three full-time jobs," he said. "I figured that at least I [would] get a little credit for participating remotely in this board meeting because of my commitment to my constituents and public service."
Heinz said his cruise ends Saturday in Panama City, after which he and his friend will return to the U.S. via Florida.
"As a public official, I'm pretty used to getting like, you know, targeted and having all sorts of often incorrect stuff said about me -- fine," he told The Advocate. "But leave my friend alone. He was in a swimsuit. He accidentally walked into the frame for like not even three seconds, was not naked, is clearly an adult, and is not a sex worker -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- but it's just been a really strange reaction."